City law interpretation spares lives of chickens slated for slaughter in public display of art

A public slaughtering of chickens won’t happen inside Lawrence city limits after a local artist was warned her planned art project could subject her to a fine under the city’s animal cruelty ordinance.

Amber Hansen, the artist proposing “The Story of Chickens: A Revolution,” said Monday she will be changing her public art event in order to comply with city code.

But the project will move forward, Hansen said, and will do so in a way that draws attention to the process of slaughtering animals.

“If people choose to eat meat, it is an important process to witness and be mindful of,” Hansen said. “It is a process that takes place on a mass scale everyday, and we aren’t really allowed to see it.”

And don’t expect to see it on a Lawrence street or even on a piece of private property anytime soon. Assistant City Attorney Chad Sublet confirmed he informed Hansen a public slaughtering of chickens would be interpreted as a violation of the city’s animal cruelty code, which states it is illegal for “any person to willfully or maliciously kill any domesticated animal.”

Under the city’s code, chickens are considered domesticated fowl.

“I think one could argue there is a freedom of expression interest here, but I think under our obligations to protect the health, safety and public welfare it is an activity we can regulate,” said Sublet, who added preventing animal cruelty is a “significant public interest.”

Sublet also said the keeping of any chicken on private property would require Hansen to abide by local codes that regulate the number and manner in which chickens can be housed in the city.

Original plans called for a coop of chickens to be displayed at various locations around town, and volunteers would help care for the birds. The exhibit was slated to end with public slaughtering of the birds, which then would be served up as a meal.

Sublet reviewed the legal issues at the request of Hansen. The artist said she doesn’t plan to challenge the city’s interpretation.

“People can raise chickens and eat meat in the city limits, but this event can’t take place,” Hansen said. “So, it raises a different set of questions for me.”

Hansen on Monday said she was finalizing details of what her event would include. She said she plans to release details in the next day or so after meeting with other partners. She said she still plans to have an event at the Percolator art gallery, 913 R.I.

Hansen’s project, which was reported in the Journal-World earlier this month, has drawn concern from Lawrence’s Compassion for All Animals Group, and from a group called United Poultry Concerns.

“There has been a lot of feedback,” Hansen said of comments she has received. “There has been a lot of meaningful dialogue and discussion and that is good. The project will move forward to accommodate that discussion, but it will abide by the city’s codes.”

The fine for violating the city’s animal cruelty code can be up to $1,000 and six months in jail, Sublet said.